Project 39: King of the Underworld

project3923Yesterday, January 14th, marked the 70th anniversary release of Lewis Seiler‘s King of the Underworld, which makes it the subject of today’s Project 39.  The film is a remake of the just-OK 1935 crime drama Dr. Socrates and no improvements to the original are really evident–except, of course, for one particular casting choice. The plot sounds good: man and wife save a gangster. Gangster exploits them, kills husband and leaves wife to take the wrap. Wife takes matter into her own hands when Gangster is poised to strike again. And with Humphrey Bogart as the gangster and the exquisite Kay Francis as the wife (who is also a female doctor), the recipe looks delicious. Only instead of a choice prime rib, King of the Underworld is more like a … well … a turkey with some serious plot holes and a woeful script for stuffing.

The big plus is Bogart’s performance–it’s proof that he can carry a film in spite of a dreary script because, in spite of its flaws, Underworld is still an enjoyable period gangster flick. Especially when Bogart snarls out “First time anybody ever told me to keep my mouth shut and got away with it.”  He is definitely worth the price of admission here.


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Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

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